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Prepare to relax in The National's post-election glow

By Sarah Cook     11/6/08 6:00pm

For the past month, red, white and blue have covered everything around me. I don't respond well to anything that's shoved down my throat, including elections, and come late fall, compulsory patriotism in the form of flags, American eagles and the words "vote," "maverick" and "change" seem to have replaced the flu as the thing I can't escape.Perhaps that is why I waited so long to listen to The National, the internationally acclaimed indie band playing at the All Rice Picnic today in celebration of Homecoming. Their name sounds so uber-American I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to handle as the election drew closer. While I'd watched a fair share of their YouTube videos and read their Wikipedia article, my exploration of their identity came nowhere near my usual Pitchfork/Spin/Vice/Paste/Rolling Stone review-reading obsession, which involves gauging what the rest of the world thinks of a band and trying to marry those ideas to my own.

But now that the election has ended with the bang the polls predicted, I am ready to immerse myself in the deep, hypnotic voice of Matt Berninger, lead singer of the band, and experience the group in their own right.

The National have been active for almost ten years, putting out four albums and two EPs, most recently The Virginia EP, released on May 20.

Critical acclaim came most strongly, though, in 2005, when they abandoned their personal label, Brassland Records, for Beggars Banquet Records. Beggars Banquet, home to bands like Nico and Voxtrot, is perfect for the layered, indie-rock vibe of The National. It was under this label that the group released Alligator and their most recent full-length album, Boxer.

Alligator, their third album, contains several gems, not least among them the infectious "Lit Up," which may sound to post-punk fans like the Killers and Ian Curtis had a baby. The song alternates between Berninger's brooding verses and an uplifting yet somehow not cheesy group chorus. Slower songs, like "Baby, We'll Be Fine," focus on the beautiful and tragic lyrics Berninger seems to have mastered, lyrics that manage to pull listeners into a certain sadness without pulling them down. A slow but jumpy guitar and woeful violin accompany the song, coming together with a repeated "I'm so sorry for everything" that builds until the end of the song, keeping listeners engaged.

Standout one-liners fill the album, with a broad scope of influences and goals apparent on each song. Nevertheless, the songs stay within the verse-chorus-verse and sub-three-minute structures the rock genre expects, making the work at once both new and accessible.

Boxer came out in May of last year and received mass acclaim from critics, making and topping several "Best of 2007" lists. I'm not usually one for snarky critiques of American culture (okay, maybe a little), but "Fake Empire" really hits the mark. It is accompanied by a rousing piano and, in contrast, seemingly indifferent vocals that seem perfect for the repeated refrain, "We're half awake in a fake empire." Certain lines, such as "put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us," feel so personal and real.

"Fake Empire" was played at the Democratic National Convention, and The National also used their rousing song "Mr. November" to back Barack Obama. T-shirts featuring Obama and the song's title helped raise money for his campaign, and the band even performed at a rally supporting Obama. Now, right after the candidate they've so vehemently supported has become the President-elect of the United States, Rice gets to see them live. So come out to the Central Quad near the Brochstein Pavilion at 11:30 a.m. today to grab some food and catch this most righteous band.

Sarah Cook is a Wiess College junior.

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